Former Cook County Land Bank Authority worker charged with property scam

The charges come more than a year after a federal grand jury subpoenaed the agency for records on Mustafaa Saleh and two dozen properties the land bank obtained and sold.

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The Dirksen Federal Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn St.

Mustafaa Saleh, 36, of Chicago faces one count of wire fraud for the alleged scheme involving his onetime employer, the Cook County Land Bank Authority.

Sun-Times file

A man who once worked for a Cook County agency that was formed to promote the redevelopment of vacant properties has been charged with scamming it to line his own pockets.

Mustafaa Saleh, 36, of Chicago, faces one count of wire fraud for the alleged scheme involving his former employer, the Cook County Land Bank Authority. The agency’s board is led by Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer.

Damon Cheronis, Saleh’s attorney, said in an email that “Mr. Saleh was aware that these charges would be filed and any comments regarding the case will be made in court.”

A spokesperson for the land bank said the agency “cooperated fully” and that, “The agency, board members, executive directors and other staff were victims of this crime and never the subject or target of this investigation. This individual engaged in a sophisticated crime.”

The charges come more than a year after a federal grand jury subpoenaed the land bank in May 2021, seeking records on Saleh and two dozen properties the land bank obtained and sold in the city and suburbs.

Federal prosecutors charged Saleh through a document known as an information, which typically signals a defendant’s intention to plead guilty. Saleh’s arraignment has been scheduled for Friday before U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood.

Saleh was an asset manager for the land bank.

The county agency acquires properties and sells them at below-market rates, but it prohibits buyers from selling or renting them again until adequate improvements have been made.

Land bank workers were barred from buying property from the agency unless they planned to use it as their primary residence.

But prosecutors said Saleh found bogus “straw buyers” to fraudulently purchase six properties from the authority on Saleh’s behalf between 2016 and 2021. The properties — in Chicago, Oak Lawn and Midlothian — were then redeveloped, resold or otherwise used for Saleh’s financial benefit, prosecutors said.

They said Saleh also formed a property maintenance company in 2016, Evergreen Property Services, but had someone else pose as its owner, then had the land bank contract with Evergreen and pay it more than $1 million for property maintenance.

Within four months of his departure from the land bank, Saleh listed himself in state filings as treasurer of Evergreen Property Services. He was president of one of the development companies, Dynamic Developers, as of a year after that.

Land bank workers are prohibited from having a financial interest in such contractors, prosecutors said.

And land bank rules prohibit them from doing business with the agency for a year after leaving.

Saleh left the agency in June 2019. A source said officials there “questioned him for violating policies and procedures, and he resigned.”

Contributing: Tim Novak, Lauren FitzPatrick

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